What’s in a number? Disputing the 2012 Census (estimate)

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In a spiritual/physical followup to @evanthemayor‘s last piece regarding the Census (What’s in a number? Disputing the 2010 Census – 07/18/2012), and the city’s dispute of Baltimore’s population numbers, comes this collaboration between a few City That Breeds authors and various Internet commenters.

“It’s such amazing news… It’s huge psychologically,” said Seema D. Iyer, a former research chief for the city’s government estimates released Thursday.

Yes friends, on Thursday, in a report put out by the Census Bureau it was announced that as of July, 2012 the City of Baltimore has achieved a stupendous goal, a groundbreaking achievement worthy of the annals of history.



….Well, if by “residents,” you mean “over 50% infants.”

Confused? We are. But here, let’s try to make sense of the numbers, as relayed to us by the Baltimore Sun (1):

Baltimore City:

621,342 people in July 2012 (reported by the Bureau to be 620,961 in 2010)
So human residents are up 0.2% from 2011, up 0.06% from 2010.



Specifically, between July 2011 – July 2012:

3,000 left Baltimore City
2,000 immigrated from abroad (unsure how many legally or paying taxes, babies, teens etc but +2,000 warm bodies)
Births (not paying taxes) minus deaths (paying taxes) = 2,300 (infants, not paying taxes)

-3,000 (assuming 80% tax paying – children, babies etc don’t pay last time we checked)
+2,000 (assume a generous 80% are legal/paying income/state/property taxes, are of age to do so)
+2,300 (babies, not paying taxes)
+1,300 new warm bodies!!



But wait, that isn’t 1,100, is it. Hmm. Though, the article doesn’t mention murder – not a natural cause of death. And what about car accidents, fire, suicide, drug overdose, meteors?

We’re left to assume that as of July 2012 this value was roughly 200, leading to a net gain of 1,100 in population (or something).



But let’s look at it through the all-important prism of taxes:

-2,400 tax payers (assuming 80%)
+1,600 tax payers (assuming our very non-academic assumption of 80%)
+ 2,300 non-tax payers
A net loss of 3100 tax payers!!



But a digression is in order. Let’s look at these babies in particular. All 2,300 of them.

How many of these infants will be left in the city in 5 years when the parents decide to relocate outside of the city? Will their parents continue paying taxes to the city when they leave? Will the babies pay taxes to the city in 18 years when they get jobs and are obliged to pay retroactively? Will the numbers be split between parents who can’t *afford* to leave the city, parents who decide to stay and/or parents that decide to send their kids to private school?

(guessing one of these options will be a smidge higher than the others in the case of these 2,300 babies.)

How many of the 2,300 will still be here or return to live in the city permanently or temporarily when they come of age?

Even if we’re talking about the other aspect of the influx, immigration, the article seems to dwell on the Latino population and nothing else. So we’re really talking about Upper Fells Point, Highlandtown, and a smidgely bit of Greektown. Three neighborhoods, possibly/probably a few more. This is hardly a city wide influx. If we can get some paws on neighborhood specific data, that’d be super helpful.

So in short, before you start hearing various politicians and cheerleaders celebrating this as a victory for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s 10,000 families initiative, consider these points.

To its credit, the Sun article is even handed with its counterpoints to the numbers, with one of the most telling line in the whole article:

There is a larger factor – the improving economy – that likely controlled Baltimore growth last year, said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institute in Washington.

“Everywhere shows gains in immigration,” Frey said of the new Census Bureau estimates. “That’s because the economy’s looking up, so more immigrants think they will be able to find jobs,” he said.

The article also repeatedly notes that Baltimore’s services may or may not have little to do with citizen retention.

And finally, it won’t be until 2040 that the population hits 650,000 where it was a mere 13 years ago, in the year 2000.




Inevitable followup!


A Facebook comment:

To base your very loose analysis on “taxpayers” is entirely missing the broader point. First, whether the immigrants are taxpayer or not, they contribute to the local economy. Most being renters, they pay landlords who pay their property taxes; they buy goods and services in the city (adding that 6% to the piggy bank in Annapolis). But the bigger point that you conveniently glazed over, is that out-migration from the city has slowed, approaching the point where the birth rate and out-migration rate should equalize soon.


You’re right, you’re right, it’s not fair to say that 20% of the immigrants in question may not be paying any taxes since they contribute to the local economy in the form of rent and sales tax, or that 20% of the outgoing people weren’t paying anything to the system, even though they may or may not be taking advantage of state support and federal programs that may or may not offset that contribution in spades depending on their social stratus, fine. Fine. Let’s assume it’s 100% across the board. Let’s see the math again.

3000 tax payers leaving (-3000)
2000 tax payers arriving (+2000)

= -1000 tax payers net
-2300 babies that don’t pay taxes
= -3300 tax payers that we need right now and in 10 years as well, which 2,300 babies still won’t be contributing to unless you consider purchases of baby food and diapers affecting the local economy, even worse than the estimate assuming 80% of the people leaving and immigrating pay. Not counting babies? 1,000 fewer. Still a loss.


This is not the first time, or the fifth time, that we’ve been told that population bumps in the City of Baltimore are a huge deal. In 2007, with a modest gain of roughly 900 people, we were told by then mayor Sheila Dixon that the “trend” was a “reversal of fortune,” after having challenged the 2006 numbers put forward by the Census Bureau. Which seems to be a trend in and of itself; challenging the numbers, getting new ones, figuring out how to either celebrate the positive and refer to the negative as simply false. The bigger point was glazed over because it’s been done before and subsequently proved to be bullshit. But fine, let’s assume that in this case it’s true and out-immigration and the birth rate coupled with immigration are reaching a net zero, it’s still going to be 2040, by their own estimates, until the population of Baltimore hits the levels seen in 2000. So taking the big picture into it, sure, let’s see where we are in 27 years.

A tweet:

And how many of those infants were born to teenagers who will depend on city/state/fed services and pay no/hardly any taxes?

We aren’t allowed to ask that question. It’s not important.
(1) “Baltimore’s population up, following decades of loss” – Steve Kilar, 03/14/2013

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